|A logo my student made for our class. We were called 4D for Fourth grade and Deitz.|
I didn't realize it consciously then, but with distance I can now see that I felt as though I had worth because I had a full time job with good pay and good benefits. I felt like I had a place in the world because I was a professional. Despite the fact that the job was causing me incredible anxiety and stress, I think I felt like a whole person because I worked a "real" job.
After Dave died, I couldn't go back to work. I mean, I guess I could have if I'd absolutely had to, but I was incredibly lucky to have a principal who told me I didn't have to come back to work unless I wanted to. I took the last month of school off immediately after Dave died and then school let out for the summer. I assumed all along that I'd be back to work the following fall.
When August approached, though, I made the wrenching decision not to return to the classroom. I just couldn't imagine bringing those kids what they needed - a whole, loving, available me - when I was so busy doing the draining work of grieving. I couldn't quite bring myself to go back. I wasn't able to pull it together in time.
I felt like a failure, and I missed my students terribly, but I also knew it was an essential act of self preservation. I took a year's leave of absence and figured I'd decide then if I wanted to come back to teaching.
When the time came again to decide, I realized it wasn't right for me to return to teaching and I resigned from my position. Again, it was wrenching because once I sent off that letter of resignation, the last trace of my identity was gone.
Wife no longer. Teacher no longer.
With both identities stripped from me, I have felt completely adrift.
It's true that teaching was becoming more stressful than fulfilling the last few years I taught. I was suffering from regular migraines and was sick to my stomach most mornings before work. The stress had finally taken its toll and I was fully burnt out. I know in my gut that staying on would not have been healthy for me even if Dave hadn't died.
On the other hand, if I'm no longer a fourth grade teacher, who am I?
So much of our identities are wrapped up in our jobs. When people ask me what I do now, I feel shameful when I answer "I'm not sure".
I could tell them the truth, that my full time job since Dave died is healing and rebuilding a life from the ground up. I could tell them that my job has been to say goodbye to the best friend I ever had, tear myself from the life we once lived, sell our lovely house, move, buy a new house, build a new community of friends around me, work on my self-image, delve more deeply into my inner me than I've ever attempted before, find a new therapist, try dating again, attend Camp Widow three times, run a 5K, write for two blogs, travel, walk dogs, and train to be a professional dog trainer.
I could say all that, but I don't.
Instead I demure and make excuses. I say things like "I'm in between careers" or "I'm not sure" or "I might go back to school, I haven't decided yet" and I desperately try to change the subject.
When I think of the fact that I no longer have my job, I feel a panicky catch in my throat and my heart starts pounding. I feel my mouth go dry with a nameless dread.
Who am I? What do I do? What's my career? What do I want to do? I have no clear answers for those questions and have the most challenging time learning to give myself some grace for not knowing yet.
I know logically that I am doing my best and that I'm not a lazy, unmotivated person. I understand that with part of my mind, but there is a deeply ingrained part of my brain that fights that and whispers worries to me when I let my guard down for a second. It wonders if I'll ever be motivated to really do anything wholeheartedly again. It wonders if I'm cut out to work full time again at all. It wonders if there's anything out there I really want to do badly enough to work hard for it. It wonders if the part of me that's able to function out there in the work world died with Dave.
It's been 15 months and I'm still not working full time and I feel so badly about this.
However, I picture myself several years in the future wishing I hadn't wasted a second of this period of my life bemoaning my lack of a job or feeling guilty about it.
The future me would say "Heal. Have fun. Live. Stop worrying. You've suffered enough." and I can logically see that she's absolutely right, but the present me is so scared. So incredibly scared.
I'm all I have now. I don't have Dave to depend on. When I was a part of a committed partnership there was a buffer. A cushion. If I fell flat, failed, lost my job, decided to change careers, got hurt or sick, Dave would be there to cushion the blow, both financially and emotionally. We'd weather the storm together. We'd cling to each other when the winds picked up and thrashed us around this crazy life we sailed through.
I'm all I've got now. Yes, I have incredible support from friends and have no clue how I'd survive without their loving presence, but I have to support myself financially and emotionally now.
It's up to me and it often feels daunting. I know that many widowed people have it much worse than me. They have kids to support and bills they can't pay. I'm extremely lucky in many ways.
I'm still scared. I still feel adrift.
I still have a difficult time giving myself some grace.
I thought I'd gotten to a really good place with this until the other day when my fridge, oven and AC unit all began to malfunction at once. The AC unit leaked water slowly out into the hallway, damaging the wood trim and drywall. Home owners insurance covered the damage done, but not the repairs to the AC unit. The oven and fridge need new parts to work properly and insurance and the home warranty I purchased didn't cover either.
Something about the three appliances all crapping out on my at once, sent me into a tailspin of fear. How will I do this all alone? Why isn't he here to help me? How will I keep myself financially and emotionally safe when emergencies come my way? The questions crowded my mind and filled me with dread.
The questions aren't helpful because the answers are simple and obvious.
You just will.
Because he died.
You'll figure it out.
And yet knowing the answers doesn't make the fear abate.
I just have to keep working at it until my brain starts to learn to take a different path. A path of confidence, hope and pride. It's going to take hard work. Maybe that will be my full time job for a while, training my brain to be confident, hopeful and feel pride.
I have to be my own biggest fan, cheerleader and supporter but it'll take hard work. I've never done that before. It's my first time trying.
It will take practice and perseverance because I'm a baby at this, learning from the ground up.
The biggest source of comfort for me now is knowing that so many of you who are traveling this road with me will know this fear and will be learning this right along with me.
I am grateful beyond words for this. I feel stronger when I know that I'm not the only one feeling this way. I'm not alone in this journey and neither are you. We're doing it alongside each other and we can support each other in ways no one else can. I thank the heavens above for this and for you, my courageous fellow widowed people.